How will you develop and manage your Web site?
Developing and Managing Your Network
The development and management of an enterprise’s IT infrastructure has long been a challenge for businesses of all sizes. IT systems and network management are critical functions because poorly performing and nonfunctioning systems can be very costly.
IT management encompasses a wide range of critical-function tasks including the buying of applications and systems; the monitoring of network components, operating systems, and application performance; and the troubleshooting of the network, applications, and system outages.
Our discussion here is to help you begin mapping out your IT infrastructure and organization—for it should be scalable for rapid growth over the next twenty-four to forty-eight months. Then, as your venture does grow, it can better reap the benefits in terms of efficiencies, profit margins, and higher valuation. Although we started out discussing technology, our best advice is to put your customers first.
Kevin Turner is the chief information officer (CIO) of Wal-Mart, a retail chain with annual sales of $245 billion, 4,700 stores, 30,000 suppliers, and nearly 1.4 million employees around the world. Wal-Mart has the largest database outside of the U.S. government. They can update their database of what is being purchased in every one of their locations every ninety minutes. But Turner responds, “We’re merchants first, technologists second. Technology at this point is simply a means to an end. What is really strategic is the use of the information and how we exploit and maximize it.”
What Will It Take to Keep Your Customers?
Today, “staying in business means staying in touch.” With increasingly sophisticated and easy-to-use analytical tools, early stage ventures have an array of options for obtaining customer information that can support data-driven business decisions. These technologies and internal processes must be in place for integrating customer relationship management, for maintaining a customer-centric focus throughout the venture, and for monitoring activity from the 360-degree view of the business relationships you are cultivating.
Leonard Kleinrock, early pioneer of the Internet and chairman of Nomadix, based in Westlake Village, California, translates what all this means: “Just figure out how to stay ahead of your core users. You will keep your customers through continuous community creation.”
Basics of Creating Your First Network
Becoming a “customer-centric” organization is easier said than done. Although the scalable technologies are readily available, you first must lay out explicit objectives that are linked to your business model, to your strategy, and of course to your limited resources. Then you must develop an implementation plan, and be prepared to actively monitor and measure the performance—all in real time, adjusting as you grow. Because once in the fog of war, it will be very difficult to sit down and try to implement the technologies, let alone think strategically about these issues. Besides, it will be too difficult for most ventures to circle back, and to collect, manage, maintain, and analyze all the information, on top of soliciting for new business from the customers.
For three years running, Kenosha, Wisconsin-based Snap-On Tools, Inc., with $2.2 billion in revenues, has placed first among manufacturers in the InformationWeek 500 survey, which ranks U.S. companies according to their levels of technological, procedural, and organizational innovation. They placed ahead of Cisco Systems (#37), Intel (#53), and General Electric (#68).
How did an old-world-economy automotive tool maker far away from Silicon Valley succeed in implementing a network strategy, when so many of the most aggressive and sophisticated companies have had such a hard time? The answer lies with Snap-On’s decision to take a practical, ground-up approach. They first identified what they wanted to get out of their network and devised a development strategy that drew on the company’s resources. Alan Bilan, Snap-On’s CIO, said, “You don’t start with an implementation; you start with a strategy, and from strategy comes structure and then tactics.”
Bilan first established a special thirty-member team, which began by listing all the different stakeholders, including customers, dealers, distributors, employees, investors, suppliers, and others, that might be interested in using their network. Then they identified all the things these stakeholders might like to do on the network. The result was a list of hundreds of items and activities, which were condensed down into a five-step strategy. Bilan envisions a day when an automobile technician will be able to sit down at a computer and access all the repair information for a particular make and model of car. This information would include the history and description of any problems, updates and advisories from the maker, and advice on the best tools to use. And of course, the technician will be able to order those special tools for overnight delivery or contact the local sales representative.
Blueprinting the Architecture for Your Network
The scope of our Web site is not intended to go into great detail on this topic. But to sum up what we discussed so far, the networked enterprise initiative must be led from the customer-focus, with appropriate support from the venture team and appropriate resources allocated. The technology, however, must be developed from the bottom-up. Together, these two paths must align with identifiable business objectives, solid business ownership, clear metrics for success, and methods for measuring progress on a regular basis.
Basically, for functionalities, community users expect a format, a place, a formal process, and a destination to organize the information that is behind not only the buying decision process, but also supporting the products and the community of users. The community needs to provide processes and solutions for sharing knowledge and information by giving them comparatives.
Other functions could include: email newsletters and product updates, message boards, online advice, forwarding of sales leads, dealer directories, online technical guides, peer-to-peer infrastructure, white papers, and case studies.
There are five basic technology enterprise-wide platforms to consider: warehousing management systems, supply chain optimization, call center technologies, sales force automation, and knowledge management systems. For more details on the tactics, see Corporate Portals by Heidi Collins, which is an excellent guidebook for creating your first network solution.
The challenges to maintaining a networked enterprise are numerous, so we highlight only the ones that are key. Upgrading the network and maintaining high-quality community members means weeding out the dead wood and aggressively recruiting new stars. It is important that the community continuously provides true value, not just the creation of digital mass. The community needs to be segmented properly and differentiated. For example, what problems can this network solve in the marketplace? Finally, you need to consider maintenance issues like online privacy and self-policing.